Though the Ministry of External Affairs has promised to provide Bangladesh with details of the agreement on the construction of the Tipaimukh Dam in Manipur, the very signing of the deal has sparked a fresh controversy.
Following media reports and criticism, the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Saturday, disclosing that India had promised to give details of the deal signed recently by National Hydro Power Company, Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. and the Manipur government to build the 1,500-MW project.
“The Indian External Affairs Ministry has referred to the assurances given by India at the highest level in this regard,” the statement said. “We will also remain in close contact with them.”
Criticism of Hasina
Since the deal was signed without any knowledge of Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi experts, Opposition parties and the media have blamed the government for failing to take diplomatic steps to stop the dam construction, arguing that it is in breach of India's commitment and it will harm the country's interests.
They have also criticised the Sheikh Hasina government for its “imprudence” of relying on India's “non-binding assurances” on the dam. And environmentalists have expressed grave concerns at the ecological, economic and, above all, human consequences the dam would have for Bangladesh.
Abdul Matin, head of the water resource engineering department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, who visited the site as part of a team of experts, said: “The devastating effects … have long been discussed. Under the circumstances, this supposedly undisclosed agreement is a massive diplomatic failure.”
Environmentalists and agriculture experts have warned that the twin dams, at Tipaimukh and Phulertal, across the cross-border Barak river would dry up rivers and waterbodies downstream, rendering vast farmland arid, hitting agriculture and threatening food security in the north-eastern districts of Bangladesh.
M. Inamul Haque, chairman of the Institute of Water and Environment, said: “The progress of the dam construction, despite [India's] repeated assurances to Bangladesh of not doing anything without taking its concerns into account, was revoked in the two joint declarations… [made] when the Bangladesh Prime Minister visited India in 2010 and the Indian Prime Minister visited Bangladesh in September.”
The agreement is also seen as “a violation of the framework agreement” signed between the two countries in Dhaka. “
The agreement for the construction of the Tipaimukh dam has made it clear that India is deviating from the formal and informal commitments it has made to Bangladesh,” said Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, executive director, Centre for Global Change.
A joint communiqué issued during Ms. Hasina's visit to New Delhi in January 2010 said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave the assurance that India would not take steps in respect of the Tipaimukh project that would adversely impact Bangladesh. He also reiterated the assurance in an identical statement during his return visit to Dhaka on September 6 this year.